Jack Hughes’ USHS coach on LA Kings Prospect: ‘He’s a complete player’

Sean McCann reflects on coaching Jack Hughes at USHS level and how the LA Kings’ new prospect is performing.

Going into the 2019 draft, the Los Angeles Kings were among many teams vying to earn the privilege of selecting consensus No. 1 pick Jack Hughes. But while the Kings missed out that year, they were able to sign Jack Hughes three years later – albeit a completely different human being.

After a quiet first day in last week’s draft. The LA Kings’ second day was more eventful. They started their day with the 51st pick overall – using it to select the aforementioned Hughes.

For some, the youngster is making headlines because he is the son of current Montreal Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes. For many others, however, this is what young Hughes established for himself. It’s something that gets him a plethora of critical attention.

In recent years, the 18-year-old has become a quality player in large part through his stint with the USNTDP and last season at Northeastern University. But 2018-19 was just as remarkable, if not more so, for Hughes. That year, he played and succeeded at St. Sebastian’s School in the prestigious USHS-Prep league.

I recently had the chance to speak with Sean McCann, Hughes’ head coach from St. Sebastian’s, who looked into a host of areas in the youngster’s game. He started with his first impressions of the new LA Kings prospect as a player.

“The first impression I got of Jack was just a very intense, attentive type of player,” McCann noted. “He was someone who was keen not only to help the team succeed, but also to learn and grow as a player.”

As for dealing with him off the ice, McCann had some tender thoughts. He was quick to admit how easy it was to teach the Westwood, MA native.

“He was kind of a sponge,” added the coach. “Whenever you spoke to him, he was always listening. He was always trying to gather information and use that information to improve his game to help the team. Jack was just a hungry type of gambler and that’s how I would describe him. He was a very calm type of child but had a good demeanor and a positive approach.

The rave reviews from Hughes, however, went beyond the coach.

“He was a kid who was really happy at that time in his life,” McCann fondly recalls. “I think the players really liked him. They gravitated towards him because he had such a good personality, but he had that ability away from the ice. [of being] just a big kid with lots of enthusiasm and lots of excitement. Then, on the ice, [he was] someone who was really intense, hardworking and driven as an individual.

And that hard work, drive and intensity has paid off.

In 29 games with St. Sebastian’s, Hughes has scored 15 goals and 29 points. To say he made the most of his ice time is certainly an understatement.

“Jack’ had a very successful year with us,” McCann said. “I mean, for such a young kid to have an impact like he has, he’s a talented player. I think the point is that a lot of things I notice about him even at this stage , is that it has continued to develop with the [U.S.] national development team and now his freshman year with Northeastern.

But during his constant development, Hughes’ natural skills have complemented each other much better over time.

“A lot of [his development] was really about his speed and instinct,” McCann pointed out. “He’s a very intelligent player. He has incredible speed not only with the first steps or his ability to cut quickly in a different direction, but also with his hands. He always has his head held high, he has good vision and he does things fast. So if you’re playing with Jack, you always have to be ready. You don’t know when that puck is going to come your way or when he’s going to make a play with you. So I think you have to pay attention to what he does: understand that his decision-making speed and his ability to do things quickly are a little better than most players.

Of course, there will always be mistakes along the way, especially as high-caliber players like Hughes are praised for their accomplishments. For any young player, how they respond to criticism is critical to the type of person they want to be both on and off the ice. In Sean McCann’s experience, Hughes was nothing short of a consummate pro in these situations.

“He’s always been someone who took criticism well,” the 50-year-old said evenly. “And the way I coached him was more about giving the kids options. I mean, I think you have to let the players explore and develop their game and make mistakes. In doing so, they kind of understand what what works and what doesn’t, so presenting players with options is my way of looking at it. It’s like, ‘Hey, what you tried over there didn’t quite work. Here are a few other options or things you might want to think about.

“They have to develop and understand that as the game gets to that higher level, the game gets faster. Therefore, something they did two years earlier may not work anymore. That’s because it need to do it in a different or faster way. [Hughes] was always good. Like I said, he was a sponge for the game. He’s always looking to learn, he’s always looking to improve and he was a very good boy to coach.

And those words of praise shouldn’t – and don’t – come lightly from someone of McCann’s caliber.

A native of North York, ON, McCann has just completed his 12th season at the Needham, MA-based institution. Along the way, McCann produced many successful players, including Noah Hanifin, Drew Commesso and Jack’s brother Riley. This adds to a list of NHL alumni at the school, which includes former King Brian Boyle and new Sharks general manager Mike Grier.

It doesn’t matter when he makes the NHL, but Jack Hughes is a special talent nonetheless. During his thinking time, it was evident how lucky the San Sebastian bench boss felt to have been a part of the youngster’s journey.

“He’s a complete player,” McCann said. “What I mean by that is that he plays in all three zones equally. I mean, some kids are very attacking. When it comes to playing in their own zone, they lack in somewhat of the same level of commitment or intensity. [Hughes] played the game in every zone, he was just as committed, just as strong, just as motivated.

“The advice that I kind of presented to Jack along the way is, again, present him with options and let him develop as a player by making good plays and making mistakes. Even from one level to another as it came from the [Boston] Jr. Eagles for us and the jump for him was just the speed of it. So a lot of things that I appreciate about a lot of players is that it’s going to take a bit of time to level up. Once you’ve made your game, your skills will take over.

As for McCann, he rose to every challenge with flying colors.

“That was probably the biggest jump from the start for him. But he adapted very quickly,” added the coach. “I think the most important thing, as a young player in our league and as they progress there, if you get chances as an attacking player like Jack, if you get chances but maybe you’re not scoring or not translating into goals or assists decisive, as long as your game offers opportunities, it means you are doing something right. As soon as you run out of opportunities, you have to start evaluating your game. That’s what I teach a lot of kids and Jack was no different.

So what is the LA Kings prospect’s biggest asset?

“For such a young kid, Jack’s hockey IQ is very high,” McCann noted. He was able to do a lot of good things there. With his deceptive and rather elusive style of play, he was able to create quite a lot for us. [in 2018-19].”

It might be a minute before we see him compete for a spot on the LA Kings roster. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy Jack Hughes’ journey along the way.

It may be entirely different from the 2019 top pick mentioned above. Nevertheless, Jack Hughes is determined to make a big name for himself. It will only continue as its path to the top is clear. After all, if Sean McCann’s experience and teaching prowess are any indication, it will be a matter of when, not if, Jack Hughes calls Los Angeles home.

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